10 Ways to Nip Gossip in the Bud in the Workplace

by Maria Koropecky, Wellness Coach

“Gossip is the Devil’s radio,” ~ George Harrison

Gossip is as old as the hills.

Gossip is a negative, malicious, and damaging conversation about someone else behind their back.

Gossip is not friendly banter, idle chit-chat, or a productive discussion about work-related issues.

To illustrate my opinion, let me tell you a little story about Cytisus scoparius. Chances are you’ve seen these stunning yellow flowers, otherwise known as Scotch Broom, in the spring, in open meadows and along roadsides, in British Columbia.

10 Ways to Nip Gossip in the Bud in the Workplace.
Charlie the black cat near Scotch Broom.

On the one hand, this tough and pretty plant improves soil, is a good erosion-control plant, and it can be used to make brooms, hence the name.

On the other hand, Broom is invasive, it prevents other nearby plants from thriving, it’s a fire hazard, it’s toxic to livestock, and its pollen is considered an allergen to some.

Did you know that this species is not native to North America? It was imported here in 1850 with the help of a Captain who planted it at his Sooke farm, just outside Victoria, B.C., to remind him of home.

Little did the Captain know, once established, Scotch Broom is stubborn and difficult to remove. On top of that, it’s an aggressive, invasive species that is well-adapted to spreading: a single plant can produce 18,000 seeds per year! It’s also drought resistant and is able to survive in harsh conditions. Since the 1850’s, with the help of human hands, Scotch Broom has spread across British Columbia and beyond and has caused considerable damage along the way.

You may be thinking, “What a jerk! That Captain had some nerve bringing Scotch Broom to North America! Now, I have allergies!

You may also be thinking, “What does Scotch Broom have to do with gossip?”

Well, ironically, to make my point about gossip, I’ve just told you a story that maligned the character of a person who isn’t here to defend himself. It just goes to show how easily gossip can find its way into any conversation. I know the Captain was not malicious in his intent when he brought these flowers across the pond and I don’t want you cursing his name every time you see Scotch Broom on the side of a road. Instead, what I want you to think of, is gossip!

I told you this story because I really want to illustrate how gossip is just as invasive and destructive in the workplace, as the Scotch Broom is on the North American landscape.

Although gossiping may seem innocuous and harmless at first whisper, it plants the seeds of disrepute and negativity in the workplace.

No organization is immune from it but tolerating gossip in the workplace leads to a stressful work environment.

One little, not-so-innocent story about some unsuspecting person can travel quickly from person to person and group to group. That little story can hang on for years and can seriously damage the reputation and livelihood of the victim.

I don’t know if you can think of anyone who has missed out on promotions or has lost a job because of gossip, but I do. Me. I know gossip was a factor (among others) in the decision to let me go from a government job I had years ago. Aside from the on-going office politics, one of my co-workers belittled me behind my back, to anyone who would listen, and that gossip changed the climate in the office and my manager’s opinion of me.

Gossip in the workplace can also create productivity issues. It’s a huge time waster. If employees are talking about each other and are running to the supervisor to settle their differences, nobody is getting any work done. If gossip is running your office, you can almost guarantee that productivity is suffering also.

Gossip also breeds distrust among co-workers, staff, and managers. People will start to second-guess each other and strained relationships don’t make for good teams. The distrust will lead to low morale which will then lead to staff turnover issues. Your employees – the ones you have invested in – especially the top performers who don’t have time for this nonsense – will find jobs elsewhere. Who wants to work in a place where everyone is unhappy and doesn’t get along?

10 TIPS AND STRATEGIES FOR A GOSSIP-FREE WORKPLACE

Keeping gossip to a minimum is one huge way to reduce the tension and negativity among your employees.

Whether you’re a business owner, manager, supervisor, co-worker, or the reigning office gossip, here are some tips and strategies for a gossip-free workplace:

Tip # 1. DON’T PARTICIPATE IN GOSSIP – EVEN AS A BYSTANDER.

By participating in negative conversations, you perpetuate gossip and you also discredit and dishonour yourself by association. Any participation in gossip will be viewed in a poor light and may cost you a promotion down the line. It also shows that you’re not a “team-player” like you said on your resume.

Tip # 2. HOW TO RESPOND TO GOSSIP.

If you’re constantly hearing gossip from one of your co-workers and you really don’t want to hear the on-going saga, here are some things you can say to get off the hook, out of the conversation, and stop the gossip in its tracks:

  • I feel uncomfortable talking about “so-n-so” in this way.
  • I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss “so-n-so” while s/he’s not around.
  • Hearing you talk about “so-n-so” makes me wonder if you tell any stories about me like this when I’m not here.
  • If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.
  • Or, say something positive about “so-n-so” to turn the tables.

Tip #3. ASSESS THE CONTEXT

If you by chance catch wind of some gossip circulating around the office, assess the context. The gossip may be pointing to a weakness in the workplace that may need attention. Maybe employees are worried about a big change coming down the pike, for example. If that’s the case, having open communication, where everyone is in the loop, is the best way to handle the situation.

Tip #4. IF YOU HAVE AN OFFICE GOSSIP ON YOUR PAYROLL, talk to them in a closed-door meeting to find out what’s going on with them. Give them some attention and listen to what they have to say, so they feel heard. Forcing gossipers to explain themselves may shed some light on the situation. Once you hear their side, let them know that you will follow-up with anyone else involved, especially the person they are talking about. That alone may curb the gossip to a certain extent. Be sure to make it clear that at this point, the gossip must stop and that it is not tolerated at work.

Tip #5. DON’T LET YOURSELF BE THE SUBJECT OF GOSSIP.

Stay professional at all times, especially during office holiday parties because you never know who might be listening or watching. Keep your personal business to yourself and don’t confide in just anyone.

Tip #6. COMMUNICATE DIRECTLY.

If you have an issue with someone at work, tell them directly in a professional way rather than talking about them behind their back.

Tip #7. IF YOU’RE THE OFFICE GOSSIP.

If memories of past conversations in the office are floating in your head right now and if it’s occurring to you that you may indeed be the office gossip, think about why you feel compelled to talk smack about other people.

  • Are you trying to make yourself look better?
  • Are you trying to vent some frustration to feel better about yourself?
  • Do you enjoy the attention you get when you tell your stories?
  • Do you feel insecure about your own job?
  • Do you think you’re doing someone a service by exposing a flaw?

I’m hoping that once the gossiper sees how hurtful their behaviour is to others around them, they’ll change their tune to a more positive and supportive one in the world.

Tip #8. HAVE AN OFFICIAL NO GOSSIP POLICY TO DISCOURAGE GOSSIP.

Brief new employees on your no gossip policy when they are first hired and include “gossip” as a topic for discussion in a staff meeting. Let your employees know that gossip is not tolerated in this place of business and consequences of gossiping may include a written warning in their personnel file, a demotion, or they may even lose their job entirely.

I first came across a no gossip policy when I went back to school at the Aveda Institute and I must say, I was really impressed by their pro-active stance. I really felt respected by the school’s administration, like they had my back, and I really made a point of not engaging in gossip from then on.

Tip #9. FOSTER A SPIRIT OF COLLABORATION AND INNOVATION.

“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas,” ~ Mary Curie

Ideas drive business. You’ve opened your business to solve a specific problem in the world and hired your staff to come up with ingenious ideas to deliver on that promise. Getting caught up in petty gossip prevents your staff from flourishing and from coming up with those amazing, out-of-the-box solutions that will put your business on the map. Let your employees feel safe to be creative, do their jobs, and wow your clients instead!

Tip #10. HIRE A LIFE COACH FOR YOUR STAFF.

A good life coach provides a safe place for people to express themselves. Instead of taking the passive-aggressive route of gossiping, employees can voice their concerns to a neutral professional who will help them work through their challenges in a constructive way.

Also, gossiping may demonstrate a talent for communication that has been mis-directed up-until-now and this person may in fact have the potential to be a great leader. Working with a life coach can really help staff members develop their communication skills in positive ways.

Allowing mean-spirited gossip to run rampant in the workplace can lead to a culture of distrust which will negatively impact productivity, morale, and loyalty. Managers should act quickly and not let gossip get out of hand. Pervasive gossip can be like Scotch Broom, and as it spreads, it will wreak havoc throughout a department, then the whole company, and will ultimately affect profits.

I’m sure you don’t want your company to be taken down by gossip, so make sure you nip it in the bud and refuse to tolerate it from here on out.

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